Tag Archives: andalusian

Testing our training with gates, Brio part 4

In addition to spending heaps of time with our favorite metaphor, the tarp, I’ve also spent lots of time working on gates with Brio.
I’m a firm believer that a good horse should let his feet become his riders feet. When I ride a horse through a gate, I want to open the gate, and keep my hand on the gate when I go through it, and close the gate without removing my hand.
Brio has an opinion that differs from mine on every single aspect of how I want to operate a gate. If he had his druthers, the most cooperative he would be about a gate is to do a Hollywood stop by the latch, let the rider fling the gate open on the move, pass through the gate, and never look back.

Brio doesn’t like to stand close to the gate, be near the gate when it is moving, stand in the gap of an open gate, back through a gap, step towards the gate as I close it, and stand by the gate while I latch it. Rather than continually work with a gate to achieve my goal, I addressed each aspect of his distaste individually.

To help with his lateral movement, I worked on his joystick control, and his rein yields.

I worked on his patience training to help his stand quietly as I operate the latch.

I worked on backing between cones, then through gaps in the gate and other narrow places.

I used this set up to have control over the narrowness of the space I wanted Brio to get comfortable in
I worked on having him stand by the gate as it swings away from him and towards him. This is fun to do with a partner, playing “catch” with the gate with riders mounted on either side. This was a particularly difficult task for him. ( There was a point where he got fed up with the game, jumped onto a plastic lawn chair and got loose…twice in one day)

I worked on him standing while I shifted in the saddle or did something else with my hands.
Again, the gate wasn’t so much of an issue as the aspects of his training that were lacking in his response to a gate. We worked on all of these training aspects on the ground prior to doing them mounted. The gate was a test of his skills and training and he failed. Rather than take the test again with no additional preparation, we went back to study the curriculum that he wasn’t understanding.

The process took quite some time, and isn’t perfect yet. As a result, Brio is much better at opening a gate and we can do it the way I like now. While it has taken me months of training to get to this point with the gate, the journey has given me a better riding horse with more malleability. These days we are getting about a B- on our gate test. Breaking down the skill into parts makes it much easier for horse and rider to understand.

Building confidence, not desensitizing.  Brio part 3

Brio is working on his low grade anxiety and confidence. To help with his anxiety, I’m giving him consistency. He is getting a routine in how he gets caught, tacked, and worked. Along with it, he is getting love and praise. He is now content to stand in the cross ties, comes to be caught instead of hiding in his paddock, and showing more of his personality. Everyone who handles him has a quiet and confident energy. As a result, he is starting to let go of his tension and relax.
To help with his confidence we are spending lots of time working on things that upset him. Things like traffic noise, tarps, crossing water, anything going over his back. This aspect of horse training is often referred to as sacking out, or desensitizing. Both terms elude to over exposure of a stimulus until the subject is no longer reactive to it. That isn’t quite the goal I’m looking to achieve with Brio.


For example, we’ve spent quite a bit of time getting him to cross a tarp. This isn’t something that really comes up that often when riding, so why spend so much time on it? The motivation is not to desensitize him to crossing a tarp, but to give him confidence to try something new. To get him to have enough trust in his handler to try something that he hasn’t done before.

The first time I tried to get Brio to cross a tarp, he spent much of his time on his hind legs, flinging me about the arena. With time and patience he will cross a tarp when he’s free in the round pen, and I can ride him over a tarp with no hesitation. This has led to him having confidence to cross bridges and water. Going past a blowing tarp on a rail has given him more confidence to trust his handler when traffic blows by him, ropes come at him, and carrying items.


So really the tarp isn’t there just for desensitization, the tarp is a metaphor for new things that he’s unsure of. It’s not just about getting used to the tarp, it’s about trusting his handler when he’s asked to do something that scares him a little.

Anthropomorphism in Horse Training, Brio part 2

Brioso del Amor , or Brio, is Liz’s unicorn-in-training. I don’t know too much about his history, except that he’s been passed around a lot in the past year. His breeder had him at a sale barn that sold him to a dressage home with an amateur. It didn’t work out there for Brio, he reportedly started rearing, so he was back at the sale barn within 3 months. Then Liz and Brio seemed to be a good match for each other. He did well at his pre-purchase exam, and arrived home in time for Liz’s birthday/Christmas.
Liz immediately picked up where she and Sawyer left off. While Brio was a good boy, he didn’t quite have the life experience that leads to the kind of confidence that Sawyer had. A loud motorcycle speeding by him led to Liz’s first fall in three decades. Between that and the discovery that Brio had a habit of breaking loose on the longe line and trying to mount the other horses in the arena led to Brio and Liz going in training with me.

We figured out a solution to the longing issue, and Liz learned some good things in her lessons. Then she got diagnosed with an issue with her spine, which required surgery and recuperation. I became Brio’s sole rider and had the opportunity to work on his confidence three days a week.

I began to really get to know Brio. My impressions of him was that he was upset with changing homes and owners so much. He seemed stressed out that he wasn’t sure what was going to happen to him next and what kind of rules his next handler would have. He would try to hide in his paddock when we tried to catch him, and he would flinch really hard when putting on his blanket or saddle. He just seemed to have a low grade worried expression all the time.

The longing issues and general disrespect of the halter seemed to stem from an issue of trying to posture himself at the top of his new herd. His herd consists of his stable mates, his handlers, and whatever random horse happened to be walking by or working in the arena with him. He was always looking for a way to express himself as being a cool and confident guy, while really harboring some self esteem issues.

I’ve often heard that it is not good, and even dangerous, to anthropomorphize horses when attempting to understand their behavior. I fully agree that horses are different than people in the way they interact with each other, humans, and their view of the world. However, my job isn’t just to train horses, it is also to help other people learn to understand horses. It is in that role that I find anthropomorphizing to be a very useful tool. Not because the horses are doing human-like things, but because it is easier to teach a human about something if you can relate it to something they already have experience with.
Most people have far more experience with humans than they do with people. If I can relate a horse’s actions, to a known trope of human interactions, I can be much more effective in helping a person understand a horse’s behavior.
To this end, I can relate Brio’s behavior to that of a kid who is a bully because his home life sucks. Or maybe the guy who has road rage on his way home from a day of getting pushed around at work. These are things that are easy for people to understand. Bridging the gap between anthropomorphism and equine behavior is the crucial step between evaluation/understanding and execution/correction.


When I interact with Brio, I’m going to treat him like a horse, and not a person. To address his low level anxiety, I am going to give him consistency. To address his issues with his confidence, I’m going to work on things that make horses more confident.

A new project: Making a Match (Brio part 1)

I’m starting a new blog series about my latest project, which is already well underway.Photo by Kathy Colman Photography

Meet Sawyer. He is a 28 year old Morgan gelding. Sawyer is a unicorn. He’s one of the rare horses that has a platinum character and pizazz to go along with it. He can teach the smallest child to ride safely. He can pack your husband through traffic and hard trails. He can willingly prance and gallop along the trail, jumping creeks and looking damn fine doing it. He’s everything you’ve ever dreamed of in a horse. So why does he need training? He doesn’t. He’s 28 with a soft tissue injury, he needs retirement.

Liz is Sawyer’s human. They are both lucky to have each other as they made each other very happy and had lots of fun. She is giving him the retirement he has earned at a great place in Pescadero. Liz isn’t ready to hang up her riding boots with Sawyer, she wants another horse just like him. Liz is also nostalgic for the beautiful Spanish horses that she was around as a teenager residing in Spain. She wanted to buy Sawyer, but a little bit bigger, a little bit younger, and Spanish. She turned to me to help her find her second unicorn.

Liz and Sawyer, photo by Kathy Colman Photography 

So I went to the unicorn emporium and found him, right between the leprechauns with pots of gold, and the flying carpets.
Actually, we had a typical horse buying experience. We tried a bunch of horses, vetted one that failed, amended our criteria, and had many learning opportunities. Finally we found a horse who fit the bill perfectly.

These are my notes from my first meeting with Liz to talk about horse shopping.  She wanted a horse with Brio.  I think I delivered on that one for sure!


Brioso del Amor, aka Brio, is a 12 year old Andalusian (Pura Raza Espanola) gelding. He has low miles, which consequently means he is quite green for his age. If you look hard enough, you can just see his Unicorn horn starting to come in.